UST, La Salle battle for UAAP crown in do-or-die game
MANILA – The UAAP Season 76 tournament is down to its final game as the De La Salle Green Archers and the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers tussle for the crown in Game 3 of the Finals Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
UST, behind a 20-point performance from Kevin Ferrer, won Game 1, 73-72, last October 2, but failed to wrap up the championship as La Salle imposed its will inside the paint en route to a 77-70 victory in Game 2 last October
With the series tied at one game apiece, both teams are expected to go to their strengths once Game 3 tips off on Saturday.
“Next game, maganda (ang start) nila, maganda rin kami. Hindi mo na masasabi kasi winner-take-all na ito, do-or-die game ito,” said UST head coach Pido Jarencio after Game 2. “Magiging even na lang yan. Ganoon naman tayo – size sila, kami puso.”
“Pero iba din talaga ‘yung size,” he quickly added. “Ang liit ng puso, ‘yung size ang laki talaga.”
Arnold Van Opstal and Norbert Torres dominated inside for La Salle in Game 2, frustrating UST’s Karim Abdul who later complained about the officiating.
“I’ll ask the coaches to really talk to the referees. They should let us play,” he said.
But the Green Archers are determined to continue dominating inside, especially now with Van Opstal and Torres gaining confidence from their Game 2 performance.
“Everyone just gave it their all and we took advantage of our size,” said Van Opstal. “Norbert played a great game and it worked out for the best. That’s really our advantage, our height and our size.”
“The challenge for me and Arnold is doing it consistently,” added Torres.
Speaking at the Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum last Tuesday, both Jarencio and La Salle head coach Juno Sauler agreed that Game 3 will likely go down to the “small things,” and that momentum will unlikely be a factor.
“More on mental lang. Isip at utak,” said Jarencio, as quoted by Spin. “Kung sino ang may gusto.”
“Everything is mental. Whoever performs better and is mentally tougher will end up victorious in the game,” said Sauler.
Jarencio, who is aiming to give UST its first title since 2006, hopes that veteran forward Aljon Mariano will finally break out of his slump after struggling in the first two games.
“Andyan lang yan. Hintaying lang natin,” said Jarencio, preaching patience. “Malay mo baka pumutok sa Sabado.”
Meanwhile, rookie forward Matt Salem will likely return for La Salle in Game 3 after sitting out the first two games due to illness.
“He’ll be ready for Saturday,” Sauler said, as quoted by The Philippine Star. “It’s a big factor because he’s one of our bigs who can spread the floor. We all know he can shoot three-point shots in case the bigs can’t maneuver inside because of the defense.”
La Salle is seeking its first UAAP title since 2007.
Aside from Van Opstal and Torres, La Salle is again leaning on Jeron Teng, who fired 19 points in Game 2, and hopes to finally get a breakout game from Mythical Five member Jason Perkins.
On UST's side, graduating guard Jeric Teng is expected to give it his all in his final game for the Growling Tigers. Abdul has also vowed to come out with more intensity after admittedly relaxing in the first half of Game 2.
Game time is at 4:00 pm. Game 3 will be shown live on ABS-CBN Channel 2.